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Obama's historic, Hispanic choice

  • Story Highlights
  • Obama's nomination of Sonia Sotomayor to Supreme Court is smart politics
  • Sotomayor would be first Hispanic to sit on Supreme Court
  • Hispanics are largest ethnic group in U.S., making up 15 percent of population
  • Obama won Hispanic vote back from Republicans; Sotomayor shores up support
By Jonathan Mann
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(CNN) -- There are more Hispanics in the U.S. than Spaniards in Spain.

By nominating Sonia Sotomayor to the Supreme Court, Barack Obama has shored up Hispanic support.

By nominating Sonia Sotomayor to the Supreme Court, Barack Obama has shored up Hispanic support.

That fact underscores some smart politics by President Barack Obama this week, who nominated a Hispanic judge to the U.S. Supreme Court.

It's a historic first for Americans of Spanish-speaking descent, who tend to be poorer, less educated and less represented in the top tiers of government than most other U.S. citizens.

It will be several months before appeals court judge Sonia Sotomayor can take her place on the high court and several years before we know her legal impact there. But you can see the political impact right away.

Hispanics are the largest and fastest-growing ethnic group in the United States: approximately 45 million people, who make up 15 percent of the population. Spain has a population of about 41 million.

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Traditionally, Hispanics tend to support the Democratic Party but a shift in their preferences can swing elections.

George Bush, who had been governor of the heavily Hispanic state of Texas, courted their support nationwide and got nearly half their votes when he won the presidency in 2004.

Barack Obama worked hard to win them back and was elected last year on the strength of record Hispanic turnout.

Now he's forcing the Republicans into a difficult decision about whether to support Sotomayor for the Supreme Court.

Like all nominees, she'll have to be confirmed by the U.S. Senate. Republican activists regard her judicial rulings as too left wing and want their senators to fight her nomination. They're ready to broadcast critical television ads, rally voters and try to build a national consensus against her.

But Republican lawmakers are the minority in the Senate, some are ready to support her and even those who oppose her don't have the numbers to defeat her nomination.

And, of course, Republicans want to win elections. They know that alienating Hispanics won't help.

If Sotomayor gets the job, Obama gets the credit and if she doesn't, Republicans get the blame. It's smart politics either way.

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